After more than 900 days Covid seems to struck Tibet once again all of a sudden. There has been strict adherence and implementation of the zero-covid policy along with severe lockdowns to the big cities of Lhasa and Shigatse in the Chinese demarcated Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). While many Communist party-backed media outlets like the Global Times shifts the blame of this surprise outbreak to foreign trade towards the neighboring countries along the border – India, Nepal and Bhutan.
The fact remains though that Tibet, especially the TAR has been a tourist hub, a Centre of Han migration and a region where assimilation of Chinese culture and tradition has been pushed at the extreme. So, when the Chinese people were facing severe covid restrictions in the mainland, many opted to travel to regions where Covid protocols were relatively relaxed and lax. On top of this the location and the timing of this outbreak is worrying as recently even East Turkistan (Xinjiang) has experienced an outbreak of covid, leading to strict surveillance and lockdown procedures. Thereby, putting these two heavily contested regions under the full might of the Chinese security.
Why Tibet and the western region of China – the location:
This outbreak in the western region of China which consists of the occupied region of Tibet and East Turkistan is beyond strategic to Beijing. As they are also a haven laden with resources which Beijing continuously exploits without giving due consideration to the destruction caused by it. Furthermore, this region consists of almost half of the current Chinese territory and witnesses frequent protests against the establishment in Beijing. Hence, having it under their control even through fear and repression is music to the Chinese authorities.
The 20th national congress right around the corner – the timing:
The timing of this outbreak seems highly suspicious as with the 20th National Congress just around the corner, which is going to be pivotal in securing president Xi Jinping his unprecedented 3rd term – this very much falls in line with the strict and repressive policies which Beijing has undertaken of recent times. With no shortage of protest and emotion of discontentment towards the ruling power, the usage of Covid as an excuse to eliminate such threat seems very valid.
On top of this with President feeling some level of political tussle within his own party, he likely wants to deflect the news to some other issue so that his god-like persona can be maintained. The zero covid policy which continues to be implemented in mainland China has drawn a great deal of ire to the Communist party but has more or less achieved the desired goal of people not being focused in the upcoming National Congress and the contestation of power within the higher ups in the communist party of China.
Reports from Tibet on this recent outbreak:
Through several blockages, Beijing has been able to stop foreign media from prying information into Tibet but it has not stopped empowered people sharing their plight to the world. They show in various social media outlets how Lhasa in completely deserted and only has official spraying anti-covid disinfectants whose efficacy is questioned by scientists. Furthermore, there was a startling video that showed how even Yaks and Dzis (female Yak) are covered with masks. A more disturbing image highlighted how Chinese tourists were now fleeing the TAR in hordes to Sichuan (to escape the lockdown procedures), creating long queues of traffic congestion, illustrating to us all the sheer number of Chinese who are in Tibet. There is also reports according to RFA reporter Sangyal Kunchok on twitter that Chinese authorities in TAR has arrested 5 Tibetans for sharing the Covid situation in Tibet to the outside world.
In Lhasa, the Potala Palace, The Tibet Museum and The Norbulingka have been shut down to prevent the further spread of the disease according to state media due to the fact that these sites garner the visitation of masses of people. And even Shigatse, the second largest City in Tibet with a population of 800,000 imposing three days of curbs, during which people are barred from leaving and entering the city.
In a nutshell, there can be two conclusions drawn from this – one is that Tibet a region which did not experience covid for nearly 900 days and was exemplary in preventing covid with its traditional medicine has really come against Covid, with the agents of it being the large number of Chinese tourists and visitors who are more or less trying to escape from the zero-covid policy restrictions from the mainland. Or two this is really just a ploy by the government to further suppress and bring its full might to the Tibetans and the other occupied regions in light of the 20th National Congress as they do not want any elements disturbing that monumental meeting.
Both of these however indicate very clearly the level of wanton activities that occurs in Tibet from Beijing and the show of indifference to the aspirations and livelihoods of the Tibetans and the other occupied people.